A surprising blessing that has come from teaching English is that it’s made me a better student. The processes that I teach my pupils for engaging with literary texts have been invaluable for me personally as I engage with scripture. A skill that has been particularly important for me is deep reading. Left to my own natural bent, my reading habits can best be described as gluttonous: so much, so fast that I process only miniscule amounts – and remember even less. That’s not a good way to approach Scripture. The discipline of deep reading has enabled me to slowly savor and digest what I read so that it is not only enjoyable, but nourishing.
Since we are in a sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer, I have been reading it deeply, taking one taste, one passage at a time and really trying to pull the full meaning out of each piece.
And not what I want it to say, but what God is really saying.
Just the first verse of Jesus’ instructive prayer has already stopped me in my tracks and started me digging. Matthew 6:9 in the New Living Translation reads: “Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.”
May Your name be kept holy.
What does it look like to keep His name holy?
First of all, I think it’s important to note that there is a difference between the holiness of God and the holiness of His name.
Nothing man can do will ever change the holiness of God. It’s who He is. The holiness of God is an immutable attribute that is shared by none other. God’s holiness is an utterly unique blending of complete purity and ultimate power that radiates from God in a way that is so overwhelming that it is actually dangerous to be in His presence. His purity is so absolute that it consumes anything impure.
The holiness of God is a powerful force, but it is also a gift. As sinful people, we can’t enter God’s holy presence without being consumed. However, His holiness is also the exact power that can purify us. There are examples of His purification in the Old Testament, but the ultimate example is the person of Jesus Christ. He is Immanuel, God with us, and because He is God, He shares the powerful, purifying holiness of God. His death and subsequent resurrection make possible the purification of all who turn to Him as Savior.
In Christ, we can access the unapproachable holiness of God. Not only that, but Jesus promised that His Holy Spirit would dwell within each believer. On my own, I can never be holy. But Christ has made a way for me to be cloaked in His holiness as He brings me before our Holy God. Additionally, His Spirit dwells in me, enabling me to have a part in taking His holiness to the world.
When I consider the importance of Christ’s reputation in a hurting and divided world, I realize that keeping His name holy will require a pastoral, relational approach as I engage with those who don’t know Jesus.
In contrast to the intrinsic holiness of God, His name is His reputation. It is what people know about Him. When referring to the Lord’s reputation, holiness means something a bit different. Here holiness means separate, set apart, sacred. Keeping His name holy means making sure His reputation is undefiled – making sure the world knows Him as He really is.
These thoughts bring me right back around to that staggering first request in the Lord’s Prayer: May Your name be kept holy. In other words, may I do my part to keep Your reputation sacred and unsullied among men.
This is a daunting and sobering request. I have enough people in my life who would never set foot in a church that I recognize the truth of the statement that as a Christian, you are the only Jesus some people will ever see. We are His reputation.
Oh, church, do we take that seriously?
If I am to keep His reputation holy, I need to be mindful of the reality that every choice I make, every word I speak, and every comment I post is impacting the reputation of the One who gave everything for my salvation. Even more, I need to be mindful that guarding His reputation in the world is vital not because He needs man’s approval, but because He wants every man, woman, and child to know His love for them.
When I consider the importance of Christ’s reputation in a hurting and divided world, I realize that keeping His name holy will require a pastoral, relational approach as I engage with those who don’t know Jesus. There isn’t a six-point formula for protecting Christ’s reputation so that others will seek Him. There are as many ways of helping people know Christ as there are people needing to know Him. In other words, it requires the wisdom of God. I can only hope to keep His name holy if He is empowering me to live and love others in a way that does so.
That is why I must pray everyday, “Our Father who is in heaven….”